One of the new year articles in the January 23rd issue of Jinja Shinpō was by a priest who will turn 72 this year, reflecting on his youth. He is now the chief priest of his family’s jinja, and while he had two elder sisters, he was the eldest son, so his grandfather seems to have thought that he would obviously become a priest. As a child, however, he really, really did not want to.
When he was in his first year of junior high school (so 12 or 13 years old, depending on when his birthday is), his father sent him to a four-day course for the children of priests. It seems, from the article, that he still has the notebook, which shows that they studied the food offerings, and how to recite norito. In other words, it was a short matsuri training course. Once he had completed it, his father said, “Well, you should be able to do something easy like a Hatsumiya Mairi now”.
The boy prayed that no-one would come asking for a prayer for their baby.
Alas for him, a family came for one on a day when his father and grandfather were both absent. His mother dressed him in the vestments and sent him to the prayer hall. He was so nervous that when the gathered family said, “What a sweet little priest!”, he jumped from the shock. Somehow he got through the ceremony, and he found himself helping out in the same way thereafter.
As the priest comments, it was another ten years before he graduated university and was actually licensed as a priest, so he spent ten years serving without a qualification. Officially, Jinja Honchō does not approve of that sort of thing at all. Unofficially, jinja get to make their own decisions… Just don’t make a fuss about it until it is decades in the past.
The author has now been a (fully licensed) priest for nearly fifty years, but wants to keep going a bit longer, until he overtakes his father and grandfather. Fifty years is not that long for a Shinto priest, so he should have a few more years in him yet.